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The Weight Loss Myth of Fad Diets

Dieting doesn't work, but a healthy weight loss plan will help you reach your goal.
By Bethany Afshar
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD

girl looking at salad

You’ve probably seen the catchy slogans online, in magazines, or on TV. “Lose 15 pounds in 15 days.” Or a “21-day fix” for weight loss. Promises of quick results sound great -- and so easy! But remember: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

These fad diets “oftentimes produce immediate short-term results,” giving you a false sense of success, says Steve Herrmann, PhD, director of program development and training for Profile by Sanford, a weight management program from Sanford Health.

But then, you’re likely not only to gain back the weight you lost, but to add even more weight over time.

Here’s the problem: “A lot of fad diets are just unsustainable,” says Jim White, a spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “You just can’t stay on them forever. They’re too difficult, too complex.”

Each one usually has its own weird tricks or tactics, which can be dangerous. They might tell you to:

Use pills or supplements: Some companies sell tablets with ingredients they claim will help speed up weight loss. But there’s usually no proof that the pills actually work. Also, it’s important to know that these kinds of supplements are not regulated by the FDA, the government agency that makes sure medicines and foods are safe. So you can’t really be sure what you’re getting.

Cut out food groups: Other fad diets say you have to cut out certain types of foods completely, like sugar or carbs. But that may mean you cut out foods that are actually good for you, like fruit.

“All foods fit in a normal, healthy diet,” White says. “Cutting out foods means cutting out certain nutrients.”

Skip meals: Some plans tell you to cut calories by skipping meals or replacing them with special drinks or bars. But if you do that, you not only lose out on nutrients you need, you’re more likely to overeat at your next meal. These types of starvation diets may show fast results, but they won’t last long. The weight you lose is mostly water, not fat, and your body will gain it back as soon as you eat normally again.

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